Challenges and Opportunities for Association Education Programs

We have come across several interesting articles in the past couple of weeks, which discuss some of the social, political and economic changes that are currently impacting how we work and learn. In this post, we have collected some articles that we think will be interesting for associations, and that touch on some of the challenges and opportunities for association education programs today.

Challenges and Opportunities for Association Education Programs - WBT Systems



Six Issues Associations Are Having Difficulty Responding To

Opening with the sentence, "Many associations are slow to change", Jeff Hurt proceeds to outline six disruptive issues that associations must face, which we have summarized:

  1. Digital transformation is not easy and is required - in order to secure the future success of associations.
  2. Connectivity is replacing knowledge - association education must facilitate feedback, understanding and application to provide true value.
  3. Members don't understand learning - if they did, association education programs would suffer.
  4. Most certification academic standards have limited value - without the ability to apply learning.
  5. Members have a large variety of learning options - making it difficult for associations to compete.
  6. Mobile technology changes everything, and makes associations nervous.

There are some really insightful observations in this post about how associations deliver education and what associations might need to change to remain relevant and offer perceived value to members. It is well worth reading for any association that is reviewing its current education offering for members or considering implementing new technologies, such as an association learning management system. Though focusing on the message that adapting to these issues might be a challenge for associations, Hurt's analysis still shines a light on the opportunities for associations willing to embrace the required changes.



State of the American Workplace

This report, recently published by Gallup (and available for free download), is written from a more corporate perspective, but some of it's findings could be very relevant for associations. It discusses in depth its research on employee engagement in the workplace, and the benefits organizations with an engaged workforce experience , including increased productivity, reduced turnover of staff, improved profitability and performance. All of these benefits could apply to an association seeking to address the challenge of increasing engagement within it's membership. In addition, by highlighting some of the reasons why employees are not engaged, the report could inspire proactive associations to take advantage of  the opportunities this lack of engagement in the workplace presents, including:

  • "Millennials want to grow in their roles, but many aren't getting the support to do so."  The report outlines that 87% of millennials "rate 'professional or career growth and development opportunities' as important to them in a job". However "less than one in two millennials strongly agree that they have had opportunities to learn and grow within the past year".

We know that associations have a unique opportunity to add value for members by bridging the skills gap between education and employment with their education and certification programs. By targeting millennials in particular with a membership offering including education or certification programs that provide opportunities for professional growth, associations can attract a younger membership to ensure the future stability and growth of the organization. By providing education and certification programs for employers who do not have the resources to invest in such programs to engage their employees, associations can also generate a new source of non-dues revenue from providing continuing education as a valuable service to corporate organizations.


Lifelong Learning is Becoming an Economic Imperative

This special report in The Economist examines how "Technological change demands stronger and more continuous connections between education and employment", and examines some of the "efforts being made to connect education and employment in new ways". Interestingly, association education and certification programs are not included in the report, but this makes for even more interesting reading for associations that want to gain insight into some of the competing learning opportunities that are available to members, such as MOOCS or online training services such as or General Assembly. The article discusses some of the challenges these competitors face, and highlights successful strategies that organizations have implemented to encourage employees to up-skill and engage in continuing education, which could be applied to association education and certification programs also.

Some of the relevant insights provide great messaging for associations seeking to market their education and certification programs to members. These include:

  • "A college degree at the start of a working career does not answer the need for the continuous acquisition of new skills, especially as career spans are lengthening."
  • "Another skill that increasingly matters in finding and keeping a job is the ability to keep learning."

The report also mentions some competitive ideas for new strategies to make education and certification programs more attractive to learners. These include discussion of making content "as digestible and flexible as possible", microcredentials, nanodegrees offered jointly with universities, and digital badges. Here, associations have a huge opportunity and advantage over their MOOC competitors to lead the required change in continuing education - the issues of industry knowledge trust, authentication, and validation of qualifications earned. One thing that many of the MOOCs lack is "a stamp of approval from a recognised provider after a proprietary process". Associations however, know what skills are required in their industries, provide clearly defined certification and training qualifications that are recognized and valued by employers and members alike. Associations can also help to provide pathways from education to employment needed to address the skills gap between university education and employers requirements for specific knowledge and experience.


Why Self-Improvement Should be a Group Activity

For a lighter read, this article in the Harvard Business Review notes that "continuous personal development is fundamental to career growth [and] professional satisfaction." However, it notes that it's much easier to commit to personal change with the active participation of others, and offers some ideas on how to achieve this. Our favorite piece of advice is: "Mutual reinforcement from others working to improve similar areas can be a powerful source of motivation. Look for a peer, or even a group of peers, with whom you can meet regularly. Online learning communities, discussion groups, or courses can provide a shared learning platform." Read the article for more ideas that can be incorporated into association education programs to promote a more collaborative learning and development experience for members.


Challenges and Opportunities for Association Education Programs - WBT Systems


At WBT Systems, we have partnered with associations for over 20 years to build and deliver world-class education and certification programs through TopClass LMS, the #1 LMS for Associations. We also provide professional services to ensure successful implementation and integration of your new LMS.

Through our blog on association learning and technology, we aim to provide insights that associations will find useful and interesting. If you would like to learn more about what we can offer, please review our client success stories, or contact us with your questions.

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